Russian, U.S. leaders set for first talks in April

16:35, 27 January 2009
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On the sidelines of a Group of 20 summit

Russia`s leader is likely to meet the new U.S. president in April to try to re-launch ties that were hobbled by differences under Washington`s previous administration, the Russian foreign minister said on Tuesday, Reuters reported.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he expected Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and U.S. President Barack Obama to hold bilateral talks on the sidelines of a Group of 20 summit planned for April 2 in London.

Lavrov said a tentative agreement on the meeting was reached on Monday when the two leaders spoke by telephone for the first time since Obama took office on January 20. The White House has not confirmed any plans for a meeting.

"Both sides ... confirmed their desire for a re-launching of US-Russian relations, and that efforts should be concentrated on the most burning issues on the international agenda."

"The presidents underlined the importance of overcoming the differences which remain between our countries on a whole range of issues," Lavrov told a news briefing.

"They will both be in London and I am sure they will find an opportunity for a direct dialogue," he said.

Under former President George W. Bush, diplomatic ties between Moscow and Washington reached their lowest level since the Cold War.

DIFFERENCES

The two sides clashed over a U.S. plan to deploy elements of a missile defense shield in eastern Europe, a project Russia says is a threat to its own security, and over Bush`s drive to bring ex-Soviet Ukraine and Georgia into the NATO alliance.

Washington effectively suspended high-level contacts with Moscow for several months after Russia`s war with Georgia last year. The United States led Western condemnation of Russia`s actions in Georgia, calling them disproportionate.

Lavrov said he had a separate phone discussion with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during which they agreed to hold their own talks before the Obama-Medvedev meeting. Details of those talks were still being agreed, Lavrov said.

Before he was elected president, Obama lambasted Russia over its military operation in Georgia. "A resurgent and very aggressive Russia is a threat to the peace and stability of the region," he said in an election debate.

But Russian officials say they see signs Obama will take a more pragmatic approach toward Moscow than its predecessor. A nominee for a top Pentagon post under Obama said this month the missile shield plan would be reviewed.

Diplomats say that despite their differences, Russia and the United States have worked closely on issues where they share common interests, including on curbing Iran`s nuclear program and containing militants in Afghanistan.

Reuters

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